Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea
Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO
Republic of Karelia, Pudozhsky and Belomorsky districts
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
The proposed nominated property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea is located in the north-west of Russia in the Republic of Karelia, a picturesque region of Northern Europe. Republic of Karelia is a federal subject of Russia North-eastern border of Republic of Karelia is washed by the White sea.
The nominated property is a serial one and it includes two components (petroglyph complexes): petroglyphs of Lake Onega and petroglyphs of the White sea. The monuments are located 330 km apart from each other, in south-eastern and north-eastern parts of the Republic of Karelia. Petroglyphs of Lake Onega are located along the eastern shore of Lake Onega for the distance of 18.5 km, including more than 1,200 figures in 25 groups located at 17 capes and 6 islands. Petroglyphs of the White sea are located 6-8 km from Belomorsk, on small and large islands in the branching delta of river Vyg, occupying a territory of 1.8 km from north to south and 0.6 km from west to east, including at least 3,400 individual figures in 11 groups.
Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are the unique samples of primitive monumental art that are among the most important ancient cultural and historical attractions of the Northern Europe. They form an individual major centre of Neolithic rock art characterized by originality and mystery of its pictures, diversity of themes, vivid imagery, abundance of scenes and multi-figure compositions, good preservation, exceptionally expressive natural surroundings and cultural context represented by nearby ancient settlements.
The nominated property is a serial one as its components reflect the cultural and functional relations preserved for a long time stipulating respectively cultural, chronological, evolutionary and landscape-ecological interrelation.
Components of the nomination, namely Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are removed more than 300 km apart from each other and are located in slightly different biomes: middle and northern taiga, respectively. Of course, both rock complexes have independent outstanding value, but they were linked to each other by ancient waterways through most of their active time for about 500-700 years. Comparative analysis of petroglyph carving technique, semantics of basic and original images, hunting compositions and overall similar cultural context (Neolithic Pit–Comb Ware culture) indicate direct contacts between the populations of both territories and trace the origin of White Sea rock art traditions from the Onega one. Both the role and content of such outstanding phenomena as rock art of Karelia can only be fully revealed in a serial nomination.
Complexes of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea form kind of primitive sanctuaries under the open sky together with the surrounding landscape, with each of these having its own characteristics, similarities and obvious differences thus naturally supplementing each other. Similarities are due to the shared timeline, connatural environment and common culture, while the differences are associated with the local traditions and preferences. The same technique used in carving the figures (picking), presence of common basic themes, similar or in some cases even identical petroglyphs idnicate possible direct contacts between the population of both territories and a certain continuity in creative practices during the evolution of rock art of the Lake Onega and White Sea.
Rock art appeared on the granite cliffs of the eastern bank of Lake Onega and the White sea only 6.6-7 thousand years ago and it was only active during Neolithic era, being drastically different from the similar monuments of Northern Europe created over many millennia and dating back to various eras. Petroglyph paintings of Karelia were created by representatives of archaeological Pit–Comb Ware culture and Rhomb-Pit Ware culture. This layer of middle and final Neolithic period antiquities is well represented in the basin of Lake Onega and south-western White sea area.
Physical appearance of creators and contemporaries of Karelian petroglyph can be learned from craniological materials of Late Mesolithic Oleneostrovsky burial ground located nearby from the Onezhskoe rock sanctuary. Unique horn rods crowned with expressive sculptures of moose heads found in this burial ground are quite similar to those on rock carvings and allow us to suggest continuity between Mesolithic and Neolithic population of Karelia.
Comparison of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea can be prominent in clarification of peculiar development of rock art of various local areas. All petroglyphs of the White sea are located on islands while those of Lake Onega are mostly located at the capes, but sometimes on coastal islands. In the White sea area predominant are the figures carved for their entire silhouette while it is common for the Onega ones to be only traced along the contour or half contour. In general, the White sea petroglyphs are more realistic than the Onega ones as there are fewer fantastic characters. Onega cliffs also include multi-figure compositions though their plots are mostly underdeveloped and there are fewer details than in the best rock paintings of the White sea. There are notable differences in themes. Bird images are predominant in the Onega sanctuary while in the White sea one they are few; mostly replaced by high-sided boats with a moose head stem post with visible differences from the linear Onega carvings. However, a small petroglyph group was discovered recently in the lower reaches of the Vyg river with carvings of similar narrow boats adorned with swan heads. Onega rock paintings have plenty of half-human half-animal figures almost unknown in the White sea area, where carvings of people are much more common: hunters for forest and sea animals and birds. Except one case, there are no solar or lunar carvings among the White sea petroglyphs, but there are bows, arrows, skis, plenty of sea animals and sea hunt scenes, animal and human footprints that are either not represented or very rare at the Onega cliffs.
However, similarities between Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are significant. Both at Lake Onega and in the White sea areas pictures were carved on the sloping rock outcrops near the water, grouped in isolated clusters. These clusters have some variations in their themes, number of carvings, density of placement and degree of conservation. Central rock paintings are standing out dominated by large and even giant anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. The places of localization of clusters have expressive landscape features and certain natural uniqueness especially intensifying the human perception of the surrounding environment. There is a range of close art correlations between the two petroglyph centres regarding the imagery of birds, anthropomorphic figures in profile, scenes of hunt for white whale, moose and bear, propagation of human race etc. The cultural context is represented by settlements of Neolithic Pit–Comb Ware culture and Rhomb-Pit Ware culture also indicating the direct contacts between the populations of both areas.
The range of plots represented in the both petroglyph complexes of Karelia is rather close: anthropomorphic images, forest and sea animals, waterfowl, boats etc. Moreover, the analysis of stylistic features of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea from the art standpoint fixes numerous cases of interaction and obvious contacts between the creators of these rock paintings. These features and a range of some other ones allow us to speak about the common beliefs and culture of population as well as chronological proximity of Onega and White sea petroglyphs. Onega petroglyph tradition, appearing a little earlier, could give a certain impetus to emergence and development of carving traditions for the White sea cliffs and lower reaches of the Vyg river.
According to the archaeological, geographical and palaeographical data, the rock art of Karelia was interrupted abruptly due to natural processes associated with sharp rise in water level and drowning of the rock paintings, and, most likely, never got renewed again.
Thus, Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea together with surrounding natural landscape present a unique evidence of extinct cultural rock art tradition of the Northern Europe.
Description of the components of the nominated property:
Petroglyphs of Lake Onega
Rock carvings of Lake Onega are located in isolated groups on flat or inclined smooth sections of capes and coastal islands along the eastern bank of Lake Onega, for almost 20 km. Eight groups are located in the mouth of the Vodla river on the Kochkovnavolok peninsula, on islands Bolshoy Golets, Mikhailovets and on the cape Cherny. The rest petroglyph spots are located to the south, in the area of former Besov Nos village on the capes Karetsky Nos, Peri Nos, Besov Nos, Kladovets Nos and Gazhyi Nos as well as on small islands Koryushkin, Moduzh, Malyi and Bolshoy Guriy, being a part of the protected natural landscape: Muromsky landscape reserve of regional significance. In total, there are 1,224 images in the Onega rock art complex, with more than half of them focused on the capes Kladovets Nos, Peri Nos and Besov Nos. The last cape with its three symmetrically arranged figures of a demon, a burbot and an otter is considered to be the central part of the ancient sanctuary.
The special peculiarity of Onega petroglyphs is evident in the themes and composition of the carvings. They include birds, animals, mysterious signs in shape of a circle and a crescent (solar and lunar symbols) often supplemented by small details in the form of “rays” or “hands” as well as fantastical images combining human and animal features. However, the most striking and unusual feature is the abundance of waterfowl images, mostly swans. Perhaps, for the residents of eastern bank of Lake Onega the imagery of swan was somehow connected with their totemic forefathers. Such preference is unique and not seen anywhere else in the rock art of Northern Fennoscandia and Europe in general.
A great advantage of Onega petroglyphs in comparison with other concentrations of rock art of Northern Europe is their pristine picturesque natural landscape: long rocky capes cut the vast expanse of the lake, alternating with coves with dune shores overgrown with pine trees; a chain of small granite islands lies not far from the coast.
49 archaeological monuments were identified in the immediate vicinity of the rock carvings, comprising remains of ancient settlements and a Neolithic burial ground; most of these monuments are culturally and chronologically related to the petroglyphs.
Comprehensive research of the recent decades allowed establishing the dating and periodization as well as tracing the general evolution of Onega petroglyphs. It is presumed that petroglyphs first began to appear on rock surfaces of capes Koryushkin Nos, Kladovets Nos and Gazhyi Nos, then, almost simultaneously, on capes Peri Nos and Karetsky Nos (figures of the lower tier), later on cape Besov Nos.
Small sketchy outlines of waterfowl are predominant in the earliest carvings, usually swans. There are also images of simple linear boats with rowers shaped as protrusions perpendicular to the boat body as well as symbolic signs on the form of silhouette or contour circles. The latter are interpreted as the earliest solar symbols. The middle stage of development of Onega petroglyph has the highest diversity of themes and stylistic features and techniques never encountered before. First of all, it is the use of natural features of microrelief and colour of rocks in creation of a range of images or complete interrelated compositions. As before, ornitomorphic themes prevail, but their range was significantly extended and there is fantastic or exaggerated waterfowl imagery now too. At the same time there are plenty of complex sign carvings with solar and lunar theme as well as a variety of anthropomorphic figures, including those dualistic in nature, including for example, moose-man, bird-man, or even boat-man. The final stage is represented by contour petroglyphs of Kochkovnavolok peninsula existing for a fairly short period. It is then when the large (1-1.5 m long) and even giant (up to 4 m long) images appear. The range of plots is considerably narrowed: there are still images of swans and, to a lesser extent, moose, as well as occasional figures of boats and humans.
Petroglyphs of the White sea
The complex of White sea petroglyphs comprises 11 groups of rock carvings located on 7 former islands of river Vyg delta in its outflow to the White sea. As of now, ot is one of the largest clusters of the Northern Europe, comprising 3,411 separate figures.
Running in its stone bed, the Vyg river formed a branched network of streams and side channels, was full of rapids, stone islands, waterfalls, whirlpools and cataracts. As of now, the ancient landscape was slightly modified due to construction of the White Sea–Baltic Canal and hydroelectric power plants. The river bed got drained greatly simplifying the access to small petroglyph groups previously located on small remote islands. In the periods of regular discharges through the Vygostrovskaya hydroelectric power plant the landscape becomes almost like as it was in the original times.
The largest amount of petroglyphs is located in Zalavruga (about two thousands) and islands Shoyrukshin (more than 500) and Erpin Pudas (more than 200). Groups of 7-100 figures are identified on the nameless islands.
White sea petroglyphs are distinct in originality and diversity of themes; some of their plots are rarely or never found on the similar objects of Northern Fennoscandia. The petroglyphs are clearly aligned towards hunting. Predominant are the images of boats, both crewed and empty ones, there are also numerous images of labour and hunting equipment (bows, arrows, spears, skis and ski sticks), various human and animal footprints, often the hunter himself is depicted. Rare and unusual images include the trees with birds or animals (lynx) sitting on their tops. In one case, a river bed is carved: a long and very winding one, with side streams and an island; boats with crew are depicted along the river bed.
Judging by the area of rock paintings (about 1 ha) and number of figures (more than two thousand), the Zalavruga petroglyph group was the main sacred centre in the lower reaches of the Vyg river. The monument is unique in the large number of flat surfaces covered with carvings, often combined in complex multi-figure compositions with abundance of small striking details. They are made in realistic and often expressive manner.
The most popular themes are hunts for sea (at least 70 scenes) and forest animals, sometimes hunt for waterfowl and upland fowl. Several groups display images of processions of people with some items in their hands (reminding of ritual rods with moose heads), there are also scenes of hostile confrontation (with wounded and dead characters). The perfect quality and the level of artistic expression of narrative scenes of Zalavruga are unparalleled on the world scale; they give us the information not present in archaeological materials, namely targets and methods of hunting, fine details of armaments and everyday life.
More than 80 archaeological monuments are identified and studied, dated from Neolithic age to the late Middle Ages, including 42 camp sites coincident to the rock art.
According to palaeographical and geographical data, the White sea petroglyphs, just as the Onega petroglyphs, were created in the Neolithic age by the population of the Pit–Comb Ware culture and the later Rhomb-Pit Ware culture and probably appeared here several hundred yars after the Onega ones.
The first stage of the White sea rock art is represented by northern and southern groups of Besovy Sledki, Erpin Pudas I, II and IV. There are certain similarities with the petroglyphs of Lake Onega of the middle stage, manifesting in almost identical images of humans and boats. Researchers associate the subsequent stages of evolution of the White sea rock art with small island groups in the bed of river Vyg (Zolotets I, Erpin Pudas III). The highest stage of development of the White sea petroglyphs are the unique narrative compositions of Zalavruga, especially evident in multi-figure scenes of hunt for sea animals (white whale and ringed seal), forest animals (reindeer, moose and bear) as well as water and upland fowl (geese and woodcocks). The final stage of development of the White sea petroglyph tradition is represented by the giant mural of Staraya Zalavruga with its giant expressive images of reindeer, total length of about 3 meters.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The proposed nominated property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea is a unique source of data on the population of this area in the Neolithic age (6-7 thousand years ago). Petroglyphs of Karelia represent a powerful layer of human culture; these are unique samples of primitive art reflecting the beliefs and lifestyle of ancient fishermen, gatherers, forest and sea hunters of the North.
The nominated property includes historical, cultural and natural components represented by petroglyphs, significant amount of other archaeological monuments of various ages including those directly related to the creators of petroglyphs, and valuable monuments of nature such as outcrops of primordial granite formations smoothed out by glaciers and polished by waves over millennia, the pristine untouched landscape of the Onega shore with its alternating rocky capes and sand dunes covered with pine forests; the picturesque landscape of the river Vyg dividing the stone bed into a branching network of branches and small creeks with rapids and small rocky islands.
Petroglyphs of Karelia are the prime examples of Neolithic rock art; they are distinct in unique petroglyph themes not present in any other rock art complexes in the world, quality of carving and a peculiar artistic expressiveness; these archaeological monuments represent the integral work of creative genius of the Neolithic age population and thus they have global significance.
The property is an example of inseparable unity of works of nature and creativity of man leading to the creation of impressive open-air rock galleries, being a genuine evidence of cultural traditions of local primitive population: fishermen, gatherers and hunters of the North. Petroglyphs tell about their culture, mythology and beliefs, everyday life and activities, being an invaluable visual evidence of the extinct ancient culture.
Petroglyphs of Karelia, created in the age of climatic optimum of the Holocene age about 6.3-6.8 thousand years ago, illustrate the process of major changes in the development of mankind in the Neolithic age without earlier or later additions; a situation highly unusual for the similar rock art objects of the Northern Europe.
Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea is one of the world largest monuments of primitive art by number of its carvings and by its area of concentrations of rock art that is distinct for high degree of integrity, good physical conservation and authenticity. It holds priceless historical and cultural information for the global society and generations to come.Both components of the serial nomination Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and Petroglyphs of the White sea contribute to formation of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property; they are complementary and together allow to present North European Neolithic age, an important stage in the history of mankind, most comprehensively by demonstrating powerful and most well-known layer of archaeological Pit–Comb Ware and Rhomb-Pit Ware cultures.
Criterion (i): The vast area of Onega and White sea rock complexes served as an important place of conducting primitive cults and rituals; presence of unique petroglyph motifs with mysterious and obscure semantic context filled with not only elements of symbolism and metaphor, but also primitive realism; skilful use of features of rock microrelief and surface colours; quality of carving; artistic expressiveness or carved images; and high degree of conservation: all these things allow classification of these monuments of rock art as an outstanding archaeological property being an integral work of creative genius of the Neolithic age population and having unquestionable global significance.
Criterion (iii): Onega and White sea petroglyphs are unique and largely mysterious samples of rock art representing various aspects of human activity of the Neolithic age. Both components of the nominated property are the links of the same genetic chain of successive creative practice with evolutionary development that can be traced from simple sketchy figures to detailed narrative multi-figure compositions. Rock images and compositions, their locations and embeddedness in the natural microrelief reflect a vanished cultural tradition that existed here for many centuries. Petroglyphs of Karelia are an extremely valuable source for understanding the development of material and spiritual culture, economy, primitive ideas and beliefs of the Neolithic age, having universal value for present and future generations of all mankind.Criterion (iv): Monuments of rock art of Lake Onega and the White sea are the well preserved and outstanding examples of petroglyphs associated with an important stage in human history: the Neolithic age. The Neolithic age, marking the beginning of a fundamentally new stage in the evolution of human culture, in the southern regions was associated with the transition from foraging to food producing households (the so-called Neolithic revolution), while in the forest zone of the European North it was marked by a profound and qualitative changes in the material culture (the emergence and widespread distribution of ceramics, new methods and forms of stone tools, and ever higher degree of adaptation to local environmental conditions) and beliefs of the ancient population, reflected in the formation of the independent centres of rock art – petroglyphs and rupestrian drawings of Northern Fennoscandia. Petroglyphs of the White sea and Lake Onega is one of the rarest samples of Neolithic rock art presented in its “purest” form without any earlier or later additions. Neolithic materials of Karelia obtained as a result of excavation of more than 500 monuments and the “pure” complex of rock art of the White sea and Lake Onega allows for more deep and comprehensive study of this age, its material and spiritual components.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The nominated property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea include 33 components: 11 sites at the White sea and 22 at Lake Onega. The total amount of petroglyphs between the two parts of the nominated property is at least 4,500. The boundaries of the property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are determined subject to the Russian legislation based on the results of historical, cultural and scientific research as well as on the basis of visual and landscape analysis; they are intended for protection, conservation and sustainable development not only of already identified and studied cultural heritage properties but also their natural environment.
The boundaries of the parts of territory of the nominated property are adequate for a comprehensive presentation of the object and to fully represent the OUV of the property: the unique works of creative genius of the mankind, reflecting the cultural tradition of the manging of the Neolithic age.
All elements of the nominated property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea demonstrate adequate degree of conservation and, together with cultural and historical context generally retain their original nature and position. In total, more than half of petroglyphs of Karelia have a high degree of conservation. Both the immediate area of the rock carvings and the surrounding landscape aren't affected by human activities.
Despite the centuries passed from the moment of their creation, the petroglyphs are in adequate condition and they are clearly visible. Lost or destroyed elements of complexes of White sea and Onega petroglyphs couldn't be restored so authentic form, material and purpose survived exactly as they were designed in the Neolithic age, fully representing the beliefs of ancient people regarding the surrounding world, practices and lifestyle.
Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea is one of the rarest samples of Neolithic rock art as it is represented by rock art of specific historical period. It was scientifically established that the primitive rock art of Lake Onega and the White sea belongs to the Neolithic age without any earlier or later “improvements”. For contemporary research, it allows a unique opportunity to study the genuine Neolithic culture as opposed to petroglyph groups in other countries where the images of the later historical period were carved along the earlier ones. The authenticity of Neolithic monumental art allows for better understanding of spiritual and material culture of ancient inhabitants of the North, their mythological beliefs, aesthetic preferences and values.
Since their emergence 6.5-7 thousand years ago, petroglyphs of Karelia have been preserved in almost pristine form. Such high degree of conservation as compared to the other world famous petroglyphs is attributable to the strength of the most ancient crystalline formations: Archaean gneiss granites The natural landscape surrounding the monuments haven't undergone major changes since the Neolithic age and even now it remains mostly unaffected by human activities.
The conservation of petroglyphs is potentially threatened by slow natural processes of weathering, smoothing by ice or water, overgrowth by various kinds of lichens and anthropogenic impacts associated with uncontrolled tourism. Since 2000, archaeological monitoring is being performed within the area of petroglyphs of Karelia, allowing tracking the current status of petroglyphs and surrounding environment while the anthropogenic factor impact is minimized.
Comparison with other similar properties
Rock art is a global phenomenon as the diverse art traditions of rock art are known on five continents: in Europe, Asia, America, Africa, Australia (Oceania) and within the borders of at least 120 contemporary countries. They are present in 44 nominations in the World Heritage List: in more than half of them, rock art are classified as the main component, in 14 they are significant and specially designated component, and in 8 they are a contributory component.
Monuments of rock art are known throughout the entire vast territory of Russia: on the Kola peninsula and in Karelia in the north-west; in the Urals and almost the entire Siberia, in the Altai mountains, along the rivers Angara, Lena, Tom, Yenisei, Amur, as well as on the shores of Baikal; in Kamchatka and Chukotka in the Far East. Depending on their natural, historical and ethnocultural features, some regions have distinctive appearance of rock art, with their individuality evident in the arrangement of images over the environment and the rock surface, technique of their application, plots, compositions and stylistics of images, duration of artistic traditions.
Despite the fact that there are numerous concentrations of rock art in the Russian Federation, there are no Russian rock art properties in the Main UNESCO List. Only Petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan, the complex of rock art on basalt boulders of right bank of the Amur river is inscribed in the Tentative list; its art style is distinct in its trend towards abstract and decorative stylization. Two more rock art properties were included in the nominations of mixed type (natural and cultural criteria). These include The Oglakhty Range (No. 6165) in the Khakassky natural reserve, Republic of Khakassia; and Bashkir Ural (Shulgan-Tan natural reserve and Altyn-Solok reserve) (No. 5666) in the Republic of Bashkortostan.
The most significant cultural component of the nominated property The Oglakhty Range is the petroglyph complex. About 3,500 images are identified in areas of steep cliffs of the mountain range near the shores of Yenisei (currently Krasnoyarsk Reservoir), dating from the Stone age to the ethnographic present. This is the largest cluster of petroglyphs in the Southern Siberia, revealing all cultural chronological periods known in the ancient art of the Khakass-Minusinsk Hollow. Along with an independent line of development of rock art, numerous traces of contacts and interaction can be traced here.
The main cultural component of the nominated property Bashkir Ural is the Shul'gan-Tash karst cave (Kapova) internationally acclaimed for its Palaeolithic rock painting. Over 150 rock paintings 13-14 thousand years old are performed in realistic manner using red ochre mixed with animal fat, representing people and ancient creatures (mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, oxen, horses).
Comparison of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea with the aforementioned rock art properties inscribed in the Tentative list as well as their collation with centres of rock art of various geocultural regions of the country and the world seems to be not quite reasonable considering their remoteness and often impossibility of direct cultural contacts and links between the ancient populations, chronological asynchronicity, different natural environment and economic way of life of ancient communities as well as historical and ethnocultural components.
Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are one of the most important components of the long tradition of rock art of the Northern Europe, traced back for at least 5 millennia, spanning several historical ages: Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze and Early Iron. Comparison with other major monuments within this vast territory enables the possibility of identification and emphasizing significant differences between them as well as justification of the outstanding universal value of the petroglyphs of Karelia.
Together with Karelian sites, there are more than 2 thousand rock art properties in Northern Fennoscandia (petroglyphs and rupestrian drawings). Among them, 6 major centres with the number of individual images between 1 and 6 thousand are the most prominent and valuable: Alta in Northern Norway, Tanum and Nämforsen in Southern and Northern Sweden, Kanozero on the river Umba on the Kola Peninsula, petroglyphs of Karelia: on Lake Onega and in the delta of the river Vyg near the White sea. Two of them are inscribed in the World Heritage list: Rock Art of Alta (No. 353) in 1985 and Rock Carvings in Tanum (No. 554) in 1994.
When comparing Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea with the rock art properties inscribed in the UNESCO List, it should be noted that they differ significantly from the nominated property.
Rock images of Tanum, counting about 3,000 carvings, are located on horizontal and sloping rocky granite and basalt outcrops along the shoreline that once was a fjord shore. This is the art of early farmers and herdsmen with images of ships, humans and domestic animals, scenes of ploughing and ritual battles, and solar symbols in the form of discs and wheels with spokes. Some researchers do find analogy between the Scandinavian “agricultural” rock art and some details, plots and images carved on the rocks of Lake Onega and the White sea. These are boat stem posts adorned with animal (moose) heads, boat crew schematically depicted as vertical columns or protrusions, anthropomorphic figures in horned head-dresses, “battle scenes” and human processions, footprints, lines, snakes and solar symbols. However, all of these are just common similarities generally inherent to the rock art tradition of Northern Fennoscandia, traced on the background of local differences and peculiarities of the regional centres of rock art. Considering the different stylistics, plots and semantics of rock art images of Tanum as well as significant geographical distance, different economic way of life of the population, and a huge chronological gap between them (2,000-3,000 years), a comparative analysis of rock art of Karelia and southern Sweden appears to be not reasonable.
The “agricultural” petroglyphs of Tanum reflect the final stage of the rock art of Northern Fennoscandia associated with Bronze age – Early Iron age (second half of II - early I millennia BCE) while the Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are interesting as they relate to the much earlier times: the prime stage of hunting monumental rock art in the Neolithic age (late V – early IV millennia BCE).
Petroglyphs of Karelia are somewhat comparable with rock art of Alta, carved on horizontal and sloping rocks in the area of the Alta fjord at a height of 9–26 m above sea level in the Arctic Norway. As of now, it is the largest rock art complex of Northern Europe with more than 5,000 images created by hunters, fishermen and gatherers of the North for 5,000 years (V–I millennia BCE): from the Neolithic age to the Early Iron age. Dating and peculiarities of the rock carving traditions in Alta are determined by the height of the monuments and changes in the style of figures. However, the height dating method can't be adequately accurate since it is based on the study of the displacement of the shoreline above the sea level, presuming the rock carvings were always made close to the water's edge.
In this respect, the petroglyphs of the White sea and Lake Onega are one of the rarest samples of Neolithic rock art presented in its “purest” form without any earlier or later additions. Their chronology is more precise and justified as the largest petroglyph groups got covered by sandy deposits due to natural and climatic changes (sharp rise in water level), having easily dated cultural layers of ancient settlements of Chalcolithic age formed in them later.
Karelian petroglyphs can only be compared with the early stage of development of rock art of Norwegian Alta chronologically synchronous to the Karelian one with similarities observed in the carving technique, themes and presence of multi-figure scenes.
At this stage, images of reindeer, moose, humans and geometrical shapes are predominant in the rock art of Alta, there also expressive compositions of reindeer hunt using a pen. However, by their dynamic and development of narrative plot, they are clearly inferior to the unique and highly realistic scenes of hunt for forest and sea animals in the White sea Zalavruga, for instance, the unique scene of ancient skiers hunting reindeers with its masterful execution, completeness of the content and the skilful translation of occurring actions through visual images, representing in fact symbolic writing. Moreover, the human images of rock art of the White sea are highly individual, with plenty of small expressive details expressed in appearance of humans, their facial features, postures, sizes and armament, drastically different from the simple schematic anthropomorphic images of Alta.
Other striking and unusual plots of Alta are associated with the imagery of a “traveling” bear representing the mythological beliefs of humans about these animals. Bears also present in the rock art of the White sea and Lake Onega, but almost universally in the context of a hunt.
Moreover, it should be noted that in contrast to the Karelian petroglyphs, rock art of Alta was carved on softer rocks (mostly light gray shale) which are more vulnerable to the adverse natural effects (weathering, overgrowth by lichens, the impact of acid rain), significantly affecting the safety of the images.
Among the major centres of Scandinavian rock art not inscribed in the UNESCO List, the largest numbers of close parallels can be drawn between petroglyphs of Karelia and Nämforsen in Northern Sweden.
Natural and petroglyphic landscape of Nämforsen and south-western White sea is largely similar. In both cases the petroglyphs were carved on remote islands close to turbulent rapids and shoots in the lower reaches of once salmon-rich rivers flowing into the sea. However, in Nämforsen some of the clusters are located at the river shore, near the shoots.
There are about 1,800 rock petroglyphs in Nämforsen rock complex, dated between Neolithic and Late Bronze age. By number of petroglyphs, Nämforsen slightly exceeds Onega petroglyphs (1,224) but it is significantly inferior to the petroglyphs in the lower reaches of river Vyg (3,411). Certain similarities between the petroglyphs of Karelia and Nämforsen can also be observed in grouping of the images, technique of their application, figure sizes and themes.
Most of the early plots of Nämforsen are dedicated to forest animals (mostly moose), boats and human figures. One of the types of boats in Nämforsen are the linear narrow boats with tall stem post decorated with a bird head not unlike the boats of Onega petroglyphs. Other similarities between the Swedish monument and Karelian petroglyphs include small number of fish carvings despite they are located in places especially suitable for fishing, presence of such unique plots as two-headed creatures of animal world, “lover pairs”, humans with poles or moose head rods as well as hunting tools such as harpoons and spears. There also obvious differences: compared to the Karelian rock art, there are significantly fewer plots in Nämforsen; figures of humans and moose are often sketchy and static instead of dynamic images of Karelian petroglyphs. There are no explicit hunting scenes in Nämforsen, and, of course no such expressive ones, comprising dozens of images (boats, humans, animal and human footprints, hunting tools etc.) as in the White sea.
Despite the presence of cultural context including the ancient settlements, chronology of Nämforsen petroglyphs, unlike the Karelian ones, remains not clear enough and is mostly based on analogies with other, better studied Scandinavian monuments. The earliest layer associated with hunting type rock art is classified as related to IV-III millennia BCE while the later layers of images including plots of agricultural art of the Bronze age are classified as related to II-I millennia BCE.
The most obvious plot and stylistic similarities can be observed between petroglyphs of Karelia (especially the White sea component) with a large cluster of petroglyphs of the Kola Peninsula, which is located on the islands and rocky outcrops of mainland part of lake Kanozero in basin of the Umba river flowing into the Kandalaksha Bay of the White sea. The possibility of contacts between the creators of White sea and Kanozero rock art during the Neolithic age as the distance between them is relatively small (300 km).
As of now, about 1,200 petroglyphs are identified at Kanozero, which is comparable with the Onega complex (1,224 figures).
The similarity of the Kanozero petroglyphs with Onega petroglyphs can be observed only in the most general sense while they are the most similar to the White sea ones. Both the White sea petroglyphs and Kanozero petroglyphs comprise images of animals, various footprints, humans, white whales, moose and reindeer, and hunting tools. Humans are mostly depicted in interaction with the surrounding world (hunting and ritual activities), very common are the images of high-sided boats with crew participating in hunts for sea and forest animals.
However, while being generally similar to the Karelian petroglyphs, Kanozero petroglyphs differ in details. Images of boats are similar (and in some cases identical): high sides with a protruding keel, stemposts decorated by moose or reindeer heads, but crews of these boats are depicted differently. On the Vyg petroglyphs humans are often depicted in a highly realistic manner, full-length, with small details such as nose, beard, head-dress, equipment; there are no such images at Kanozero at all. Figures of skiers are common on the White sea petroglyphs, just as images of tools, especially bows and arrows, both flying and plunged into a target. There are few such plots with skiers at Kanozero and there are no images of bows and arrows at all.
Dating of the Kanozero petroglyphs currently poses considerable difficulties since the cultural context of the monuments wasn't studied. By analogy with the White sea petroglyphs, the beginning of the Kanozero rock art complex can be traced back to the Neolithic age (IV millennium BCE), but, considering the presence of later images having Scandinavian analogues by their carving techniques and stylistic features, it is presumed that the complex was developed until the Bronze age (II millennium BCE).
Moreover, attention has to be paid to the very soft rock formations of Kanozero, which, together with petroglyphs carved on them, are exposed to much heavier damage due to natural and anthropogenic factors than the Karelian petroglyphs. Despite the Kanozero petroglyphs being hard to reach, already by the time of their discovery part of the petroglyphs were damaged by tourists or lost to natural exposure.Thus, the comparative analysis of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea with the similar properties within the North European geocultural region demonstrated that, despite the similar combination of values and attributes in typological sense (ancient petroglyph art) is already present in the World Heritage List, the property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea is a unique and outstanding sample given the chronology (“pure” Neolithic art), theme (symbols, abundance of ornithomorphic and fantastic anthropomorphic images as well as precisely detailed, multi-figure realistic hunting scenes nowhere else to be found in the whole world), integrity and degree of conservation. Of course, the property Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea has exceptional features not yet represented in other properties in the World Heritage List, making a unique contribution to the cultural heritage of the world.